Nine Meals Away from Anarchy

Venezuela has rapidly devolved into utter chaos as hyperinflation, black outs and lack of basic goods are having ever more serious effects on its inhabitants. Doctors are fleeing the country, people are looting grocery stores and killing cats, dogs and doves for food. 

Hunger destroys social order as desperate people take desperate steps to secure food for survival. If people go hungry for too long a revolution is likely. 

Relying on a ‘just-in-time’ delivery system in a period of financial collapse is like begging for social upheaveal in my mind. There is no redundancy at all if the food supply chain is interrupted, at most grocery stores keep some 3 days of inventory. After that, people start bartering and looting until the situation becomes so unbarable that they revolt or flee to another country.

Lack of food security is also caused by a shifting climate with more extreme weather events (e.g. stronger El Niño, more severe droughts) leading to crop failures and people flooding into already overpopulated cities. Creating social unrest as unemployment and crime grows. A situation that occured in Syria just before the civil war broke out. 

According to the latest Global Food Security Update (March, 2016) by the World Food Programme we can see (in the map below) how hunger hotspots are concentrated around the equator in very dry regions, in areas of conflict and countries vulnerable to changes in rainfall patterns due to El Niño. 

For example, food insecurity in Syria have reached alarming levels as most people struggle to find food or the money to buy food. Some 13.5 million people in Syria require protection and humanitarian aid. In Yemen, 56% of the population, i.e. 14.4 million people, are food insecure. In South Africa 31.6 million people have been affected by the poor rainy season due to El Niño. Ethiopia is also suffering from El Niño-induced droughts and some 10.2 million people are currently in need of food assistance.

Food Insecurity Hotspots (orange), WFP presence (brown). Source: World Food Programme, March 2016

Many commodity exporting countries relying heavily on oil for government income and spending (e.g. Venezuela, Niger, Iraq, Angola) are suffering major economic problems due to peak production, rising extraction costs and lower market prices. This is true also for countries like Russia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Canada. The less diversified a country is the more vulnerable they are to market shocks.

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Melting Arctic, Mangled Jet Stream and Massive Forest Fires

Jet streams consists of bands of very strong winds which move weather systems around the globe. These have been relatively stable until recently due to a decrease in temperature gradient between the equator and north pole. Below is a satellite image of a mangled jet stream, using Earth Nullschool, creating blocking patterns that makes weather system seem “stuck”. For example, here in southeast Sweden we are experiencing record warm May temperatures (20-25 C), little rain or wind with a high risk of forest fires.  

Jet stream pattern over Europe, with warm air “stuck” over Scandinavia
A similar situation but much worse is occurring in Canada where massive forest fires have driven 88,000 canadians out of their homes in Fort McMurray. These people are now climate refugees and more damage is yet to come as the fire is now moving towards Alberta’s tar sand fields and could double in size due to strong winds and dry conditions. The fire cover an area as large as Hong Kong.

Melting Arctic sea ice causes more heat to be absorbed by the darker surface of the ocean, especially in late spring when the sun is really strong. The extra heat is then also transferred into the atmosphere. When this happens the lower layers of the atmosphere warms and expand, pushing up the higher layers and causing the jet stream to bulge. As the sea ice disappears and the atmosphere in the Arctic warms the airflow in the jet stream is more likely to loop and bulge, causing blocking events.

High pressure systems over Greenland can have the effect of blocking polar jet stream flow over part of the North Atlantic […] causing the jet stream to split into branches and bringing about all kinds of severe weather events as a result.according to Dr. Edward Hanna from the University of Sheffield.

Researchers are worried that these type of blocking events of high pressure systems over Greenland can lead to rapid melt of the ice sheet as well as causing extreme weather events over the northern hemisphere.

FrostByte, E Hanna: The Jet Stream and Greenland Warming from Climate and Cryosphere on Vimeo.

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Climate-exodus from MENA

Map of the European Migrant Crisis 2015. Credit: Maximilian Dörrbecker (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Researchers from the Max Planck institute have calculated that summer temperatures in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) could become so hot within the coming 30 years that human habitability is compromised. Hot summer days south of the Mediterranean could see temperatures around 46 °C that, together with all the desert dust and air pollution, could become intolerable and force people to migrate.

More than 500 million people live in MENA, a region that is already experiencing drought problems and conflict over water resources. The number of extremely hot days has doubled since 1970 while population has exploded, leading to overexploitation of groundwater basins. 

In a recent story by Reveal we could read how global leaders are becoming increasingly worried about water shortages. The growing water crisis in the Middle East is thought to have contributed to destabilizing the region, sparking civil unrest and war in Syria and Yemen.

According to a 2009 cable from the U.S. Ambassador in Yemen, “Water shortages have led desperate people to take desperate measures with equally desperate consequences” 

Of course, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that people become desperate when the most vital of resources for survival becomes scarce. The once arid region is turning more and more into a desert, both due groundwater depletion and shifting climatic zones. 

Even if climate change is limited to a global mean temperature increase of 2 °C warming over land will be stronger and extreme temperatures can increase well beyond +2°C. As such, heat waves and water shortages will only worsen over time as carbon emissions rise and unsustainable usage of aquifers continues. 

Climate-exodus expected in the Middle East and North Africa
In the Middle East and North Africa, the average temperature in winter will rise by around 2.5 °C (left) by the middle of the century, and in summer by around 5°C (right) if global greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase according to the business-as-usual scenario (RCP8,5)
The migration flows from the MENA region into Europe and elsewhere will most likely increase in the future as people have no choice but to move from their drying land. 

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